ICCA, the International Congress and Convention Association, is celebrating its 50th anniversary year in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week at its 51st annual congress.

Welcoming 715 delegates from 64 countries, CEO Martin Sirk made special note of the 185 first-time delegates to the annual gathering of international convention and visitor bureaus, convention centers, hoteliers, and other suppliers as well as professional congress organizers.

The first two days of educational sessions brought to light continuing challenges among international association meetings and destinations. As a result of the economic situation in Europe, many congresses have seen a softening of delegate numbers—although very few outright meeting cancellations, according to a joint survey of ICCA and the IMEX Group.

In addition, European congresses have started to see attendance soften as a result of regulations that prevent pharmaceutical companies from sponsoring or supporting physicians to attend conferences and conventions. Enrico Zuffi, association conferences marketing manager, Geneva Convention Bureau, Switzerland, told an audience in an update on international association meetings that medical meetings that usually attract researchers and academicians are going through hard times, finding that governments can no longer financially support their attendees.

The big increases in numbers of meetings are happening in Asia, particularly in China, as well as in South America, according to representatives of PCOs from every region of the world who attended a session on meeting management.

ICCA has recognized the Middle East and Africa as growth markets in the meetings and conventions realm and has opened new regional offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, and in Dubai, said Arnoldo Nardone, ICCA president and director of sales and marketing for the Radisson Montevideo Victoria Plaza Hotel. He is running unopposed for another two-year term as ICCA president.

Another piece of news released at the annual congress: ICCA is building out a portal for international associations on its Web site.

Next year’s ICCA Congress will be held November 2–6 in Shanghai, China.